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San Diego's Casbah Celebrates 25 Years Of Music

January 7, 2014 1:20 p.m.


Tim Mays, Owner, The Casbah

Related Story: San Diego's Casbah Celebrates 25 Years Of Music


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The red building decorated with flames and a funky Aladdin lamp has become a San Diego landmark and is now a long-term legend in music history. I am talking about the Casbah. It marks its twenty-fifth anniversary this month. Throughout the years the Casbah has booked international groups like No Doubt, Nirvana and Alanis Morissette while becoming a rite of passage venue for countless local bands. Casbah owner Tim Mays is stepping into the spotlight this month to celebrate at the North Park theater. Welcome to the show. Does this seem like twenty-five years since you started the club?

TIM MAYS: Sometimes it seems longer, but mostly doesn't. It seems like it has gone by really quick.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How did they get started?

TIM MAYS: Me and a couple friends owned a bar called the Pink Panther. It was a beer and wine bar. We got an opportunity to purchase another bar and we decided to buy it and put on a live music venue and we started with the original idea of doing R&B and roots music and something more mellow than rock because we had backgrounds as punk rock promoters and we're tired of it and so we opened and for the first few months we had local rockabilly bands and jazz and swing bands, we started getting calls from agents and rock bands that want to play & booking them in the next thing we know today seven nights a week and it took off.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Where did the name come from? A lot of people think it came from the Clash's ìRock the Casbah.î

TIM MAYS: Yes I get that a lot, my partner Bob Bennett grew up in Pittsburgh and when he was a teenager there is a club in Pittsburgh called the Casbah. They came up with the name and is a cool sounding word, and there was the Clash song we just said that would be great.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: With the music club scene like when the Casbah opened?

TIM MAYS: There were not many other places, there was Spirit Club and it was kind of worn out and people didn't like playing there anymore. There was another place called Bodie's and for whatever reason it did not have the interest in having a lot of live music. We kept doing it. One of my other partners who was a concert promoter at the time but a lot of the bands that the early days and we kept booking events like the fact that we took care of them and took care of them in treated them well. All the local bands started paying out there.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This month you will be taken down memory lane over and over as these events continue, I wonder if you thought about, what are some of the shows that come back to you at the Casbah? One of the most memorable shows?

TIM MAYS: There are a few, at the first location Nirvana played there, I missed the show and I was out of town. A week later Smashing Pumpkins played there and that was an epic show. That put the place on the map and we had a great show and that first location with the Jesus Lizard and John Spencer together, that was one of the best we ever had. Moving into the new club in 1994, Morphine played there and they were fantastic and that we have had a few things like an old blues guy that played there and he was seventy-five years old. He'd been rediscovered by some younger guys and it was fantastic. Sitting in our office and talking to him that hearing all the stories. And Rocket From the Crypt, there are a ton more. I can go on and on.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is it like to own a music club like this? It could be one of the coolest jobs in the world.

TIM MAYS: It's mostly, but in a business of running yourself, you're always on call. You are the one that people will call if there is a problem that they do not know how to solve, and I have employees that have been there 20+ years and I still get calls because I like things to get done a certain way. There still is a judgment call to make sometimes and you are always on call and that is the downside and that is with any business in writing a music club is great because I find myself, just this last weekend we had the paladins and the dragons in, and having them play again in San Diego and watching as the place is packed with people and watching those guys play, it's amazing and there is no other feeling like it and it's like running on a big time party for 200+ people and everyone is having a great time and there is nothing like it. Time to time I'll go to see bands and love it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You mentioned the fact that the Casbah hosts local bands a lot, and you've helped launch a lot of local bands and I wonder if that is what your big commitments, supporting local music.

TIM MAYS: Always, nowadays there are a lot of touring acts they go all over the world, and local bands are the bread-and-butter of the club because a lot of the touring bands that come through. People on their own, maybe they're just starting out or they are on tour, so I've always wanted to cultivate local bands and our goal is always to have local bands are playing very good up to where they can headline the club and maybe even do tonight, we've done that over the years with a lot of different bands and we keep doing it and that is the beauty of the whole thing because there's always starting somebody starting a new band, just like on the other side of it there's always someone who turns twenty-one and wants to be at the club. And events keep popping up all of the time and it's something that we have always wanted to feature.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There a lot of local local bands playing as part of the twenty-fifth anniversary month, let's hear a few right now.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is No Knife, Pinback, and the Silent Comedy all playing at the Casbah's twenty-fifth anniversary this month. I'm here talking with Tim Mays the owner of the Casbah, what gets you excited about a band?

TIM MAYS: There are many different things, I like a lot of different kinds of music and I will listen to big band music and jazz and I will listen to old 60s stuff and new stuff that I like, a great catchy song is what I love. Those three bands that you just played are all playing two nights each. They are bands that started out small and grew until they are doing tonight send it back can do way bigger places, but those bands they've seen a million times and I love them all.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You book shows in several venues and doesn't that give you a big influence?

TIM MAYS: Acts that come through the Casbah, we are small club that can only hold 200 people and as acts continue to grow, we have relationships with other venues in town so we can book that band into another venue. Last year we did probably about 30+ shows at the Belly Up, and maybe fifteen or so at the House of Blues and we're also doing a lot of shows at Soda Bar, which is a smaller club but it gives us a little more overflow because we get some new bands that come through and we cope or about with all of those other comparable with all of those other venues. It allows us to really maintain a relationship with bands that we brought up that helps to fill other clubs.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As you look back and look at how the Casbah has grown over the years, how influential would you say that the club has been when it comes to the San Diego music scene?

TIM MAYS: That is hard to say, I'm very humble in those matters but I think if we were not doing it some else would have worked with the doing it for a long time and I think that is not rocket science, it's a matter of our philosophy has always been treating the bands and the fans the way that you like to be treated. I think that is helped nurture it and it had some of the bands come through and build their careers and co-opted the world and do their thing and come back and they still want to play there because there's a certain experience tied with it. I have had a lot of bands tour all over the country and say that? The Casbah is one of the best clubs in the country and that makes me feel great. It's not rocket science.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Would you think this San Diego music scene is lacking?

TIM MAYS: I don't know that is lacking right now -

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Some people say this too much indie rock and not enough other kinds of music

TIM MAYS: Guilty as charged but we do a lot of Radeon eighty rock and we built our thing on that and we try to branch out into other things that is thriving coffeehouse scene for acoustic and other things going on. There's certain clubs that do metal and we do not be a lot of either one of those in reducing folk acoustic but I think there are plenty now and there a lot of bands and if it is lacking anything I think it's the fact that there too many other things to do and people do not go on as often as they might in another city and maybe the city could be more supportive of music somewhere like Austin or Los Angeles which are very supportive of local musical scenes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Look at San Diego do?

TIM MAYS: That is a good question but I don't know specifically what San Diego could do? I have not thought about that enough to think what they could do. I'm sure there could be more done.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Something that San Diego has done is January 14 to the Casbah day in city of San Diego.

TIM MAYS: We approached the City Councilman and got a wild hair in my brain and called Todd Gloria's office and they said they love the Casbah and did it. January 14th they are going to make a proclamation and we're going to get a plaque and I had a dream about that last night that I was late to it and it was good to be there in time and I was panicking and woke up and realize this until next week.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are you feeling competition from other clubs now?

TIM MAYS: You know, a little bit but we try to work with other clubs, the book a lot of shows at Soda Bar, which is similar in size to Casbah and they run shows the way that we do and treat the bands nicely and professionally. We also try to get bands that we have to book shows, so we go into the Void or the Griffin and we try to work with them and the guys at Soda Bar and especially we've worked very closely on and there is a lot more competition and I think we've been doing it so long that we have such greats contacts with booking committee out there that the bands come through and they want to play at the Casbah.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: January 23 there's twenty-five years of the Casbah at North Park, who will we be seeing there?

TIM MAYS: It is all going to be a surprise, a good friend of mine who used to do Orchids and Onions, she is producing the event and I've given her a whole list of contacts and bands of people who have been influential over the years and she has been putting the whole thing together, I will be there and there will be other people there and that is all I know.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Have you heard rumors of special guests that will be there?

TIM MAYS: I wish I could, I had a meeting yesterday and they mean boast some of the special guests and the lead people know what's going on, she is about to release some names but I honestly do not know.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is a good thing that you she didn't tell you, because you would've told us.

TIM MAYS: I would if I could.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for speaking with us.

TIM MAYS: It's been an honor to be here.